Innovative Approaches to Camel Development
The one humped dromedary was domesticated in Arabia about 3,000 years ago and reached the Horn of Africa shortly afterwards. Old and New World Camelids having common ancestry, share similarities such as pad-like feet and tolerance of temperature extremes Old World camels however, have fat stored in the hump, which is an adaptation to seasonal food scarcity indicating evolution under harsh conditions of climate change.
“The adaptations don’t end there,” Dr. Chris Field pointed out during the just concluded International Camel Symposium organized by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute in Garissa and funded by the European Union. “The desert ship exhibits about twenty adaptations to life in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands. Some of these adaptations are present in wildlife and livestock in Africa, but none show the full array present in the dromedary.”
He added: “Although climate change has been a global norm it is accelerating due to man’s activities, and drought is one extreme which will seriously affect conventional livestock. Due to its adaptations the dromedary is best poised to cope with these changes and still benefit man with its products.”
He pointed out that cattle however, present considerable risk, as we saw during last year’s drought in Kenya. Pastoralists are traditionally conservative, do not take risks with their animals and rely on tried and tested strategies. Global warming since the last ice age, combined with near exponential human population growth and desertification call for broader and more innovative uses of the camel.
Some of the innovations that he suggested can be clustered under five categories that include socio-economic, environmental, marketing products, transport and traction and drought contingency issues.
On the socio-economic front, Dr. Field said that the introduction of camels to new areas should involve psycho-social changes in the recipient communities for success. Those who have had camels for more than 40 years may show cultural changes associated with camel adoption e.g. Boran plough with camels and the Samburu include camels in their bride price. In last 20 years camels were introduced to Maasai in Kajiado, Narok and northern Tanzania, also to Marakwet and Voi. Mortality of draft oxen in Mwingi, Ukambani during the drought last year has been followed by the introduction of camels for ploughing. Recent introductions need follow-up and evaluation on their sustainability and also assessment of potential new areas.
About twenty years ago 24 Pakistan camels were introduced to Kenya as high milk producers. The main aim was to improve milk yield of Kenya’s herd. Pure Pakistan females produce significantly more on local pasture, but this has yet to be shown for crosses (cross-breeds). Crosses are now found from Mandera to Pokot and Samburu to Tanzanian Maasailand. Very few pure bred Pakistan camels remain; and there is therefore need for these be used as sperm banks.
Camels for school milk followed cessation of formal school feeding programs in ASALs. Twenty six schools in Samburu, Marsabit and Moyale have herds, providing milk and money for bursaries. There has also been unexpected benefit in maintaining links between children and their pastoral culture. This school milk project needs evaluation and possible up-scaling.
While looking at innovation from an environmental perspective, it is evident that on cattle ranches camels eat several thorny browse plants which invade following overgrazing. e.g. Opuntia, Acacia drepanolobium. By eating deep rooted browse plants camels may accelarate the recycling of nutrients which have leached deep into the soil profile beyond grass roots. In addition, water availability is the key environmental issue in this millennium. Considerable resources are being spent on maintaining water dependent cattle in ASAL’s. Camels do not drink when green food is available. In dry seasons camels consume only one third of the water drank by other livestock when measured in cc/kg live weight/day. All Ministry of Water Development projects in ASAL’s should emphasize the greater water efficiency of camels and should encourage their promotion.
Camels can travel to many desert areas where vehicles cannot reach. In consequence, they have been used for distribution of relief food. They also carry water for suckling stock unable to follow mothers to wells, elderly, babies, infirm, mobile clinics and library. The even participate in racing – this could be a potential for “Dryathlon.” Camel ecotourism could also be a good source of revenue.
Uses of camel products in the recent past have increased – the milk has proven medicinal value and is a health food. Camel hides and hair are now used for leather and wool. Their bones make great false ivory as is evident with blacksmiths in Wajir and carvers in Kibera. The dung is used as a fertilizer and to make ornaments e.g. key holders. The urine is also considered medicinal.
Elsewhere in the world, camels are used for pulling carts like in Rajasthan and India, ploughing like in Marsabit, Samburu and Mwingi, racing like in the UAE, desilting dams with ripper and scoop, pressing sim sim in Ethiopia and lifting water at Saharan wells.
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Opening speech by the Minister
Speech by the Minister for Livestock Development Hon Dr. Mohammed Abdi Kuti, EGH, MP, (read on his behalf by the Director of Livestock Development Mr. Julius Kiptarus) during the official opening of the International Camel Symposium on 7th June 2010 at Almond Hotel, Garissa. Read
Closing speech by the Provincial Commissioner North Eastern Province
Speech by the Provincial Commissioner North Eastern Province during the closing of the International Camel Symposium and the official opening of the 15th Kenya Camel Forum on the 11th June 2010 at the Almond Hotel in Garissa